A graduate program in Genetic Counseling

Last updated: May 25, 2016 at 2:08 p.m.


Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling
The Master’s Program in Genetic Counseling is a two-year course of study integrating didactic course work with experiential learning in an environment that encourages close student/faculty interaction. The program places a strong emphasis on disability education and awareness, provides in-depth coursework on human, molecular and clinical genetics as well as counseling theory and technique and offers students extensive fieldwork experience and clinical training.

Graduates of the program are expected to have:

  • a clear understanding of human and medical genetics, developmental biology, molecular biotechnology, gene mapping, sequencing and variant analysis;
  • a solid foundation of knowledge on the major genetic diseases, cancer predisposition syndromes and birth defects and the methods used to diagnose and/or manage them;
  • familiarity with a variety of counseling theories and techniques that are employed in short-term counseling settings;
  • the ability to present relevant genetic information to individuals and families from diverse backgrounds in a compassionate manner, facilitate informed decision-making and help families obtain the medical and social services they need;
  • sensitivity to the needs of, and entitlements for, children and adults (including parents and potential parents) with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, and other genetic disorders;
  • an awareness of the legal, ethical, and public policy issues raised as a result of evolving DNA and reproductive technologies;
  • experience in the application of research methodology, the design and execution of research projects involving human subjects and the preparation of completed projects for professional publication and presentation;
  • the skills to review relevant scientific literature and utilize computer-based tools and websites; and
  • an appreciation of how genetic counselors function in a variety of work settings and their roles and responsibilities within a clinical, research or laboratory team.

The Program requirements are typically completed in two academic years and the intervening summer. The Program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling and prepares graduates for the certification examination administered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

How to Be Admitted to the Graduate Program

In addition to a Bachelor's degree, applicants should have completed the following courses: one year of general chemistry; one year of biology with lab; one semester of genetics (course should include both Mendelian and molecular); and one semester each of organic chemistry, biochemistry, psychology and statistics. Applicants lacking one or more of these courses are invited to consult the Program Director on how to fulfill these requirements.

Crisis counseling experience, volunteer or work with individuals who have disabilities and shadowing of genetic counselors working in the field are strongly recommended.

All applicants must submit a personal statement and three letters of recommendation, forward transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate work and send results of the General Test of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The GRE codes for this Program are Institution 3092, Department Program 0210.

Faculty Advisory Committee

Judith Tsipis, Chair and Graduate Advising Head
(Biology and Genetic Counseling)

Cassie Buck
(Genetic Counseling)

Gayun Chan-Smutko
(Genetic Counseling)

Joseph Cunningham

Judith Jackson
(Genetic Counseling)

Kate Kramer

Barbara Lerner
(Genetic Counseling)

Alice Noble
(Genetic Counseling and Heller School)

Terri Queler
(Genetic Counseling)

Janet Rosenfield
(Genetic Counseling)

Gretchen Schneider
(Genetic Counseling)

Joan Stoler
(Genetic Counseling)

Rachel Woodruff

Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science

Program of Study
The academic component of the curriculum consists of graduate-level courses in: molecular biotechnology, human genetics, human reproductive biology, genetic counseling, clinical genetics, counseling theory, research methodology, biomedical law and ethics, and health policy. These courses are designed to provide students with a solid scientific background, knowledge of counseling techniques and an awareness of the social, legal and ethical issues surrounding genetic testing and counseling.

The Program also includes a professional development component. In several classes, students present mock sessions or cases seen during their internships and discuss their patient interactions from the counseling, educational and professional perspectives. Participation in a proseminar and two semesters of journal club familiarize students with the relevant scientific literature while they learn to present papers in a professional and polished manner. Sessions on preparing for your professional career, job search, and working as a student supervisor are included in a seminar for the second year students. Attendance at two professional meetings is also required in the second year, and funds are available to defray costs.

Experiential learning is an important and integral part of the program. First-year students have a community fieldwork placement at a site that provides services to individuals with a wide variety of disabilities and spend time with a family raising a child with a genetic disorder or other disability. These experiences deepen the students' understanding of issues faced by individuals and families with disabilities as well as the services available to them. Students also observe clinical and non-clinical genetic counselors, and spend time in diagnostic genetic testing and newborn screening laboratories at some of the major medical centers in the Boston area. These experiences illustrate how the genetic counselor fits into the health care continuum, demonstrate the various roles genetic counselors can have, and expose the students to professional opportunities for genetic counselors.

Starting in the summer following the first year and continuing through the second year, students participate in three clinical internships (prenatal, pediatric, cancer). The summer internship is 30 days either full time for 6 weeks or fewer days per week for a longer duration, depending on the clinic and supervisor schedules. Students will also have a 25-day internship in both the fall and spring semesters, typically two days per week. In each internship, students work directly with patients and families, under the supervision of genetic counselors or clinical geneticists, and become familiar with the practice of genetic counseling and develop their counseling and communication skills in a variety of settings. Satisfactory completion of the three clinical internships is required for graduation from the program.

Residence Requirement
The residence requirement for this program is two years of full-time study.

Language Requirement
There is no foreign language requirement for the Master's degree.

Master's Thesis
All students design and carry out an independent qualitative or quantitative research project related to the field of genetic counseling. Their Master’s thesis must be completed and deposited electronically in the Brandeis Institutional Repository prior to graduation. Students are also required to present their thesis findings to students and faculty at the conclusion of their second year and submit their work for either publication or presentation.

Courses of Instruction

Core Courses

BIOL 101a Molecular Biotechnology
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Prerequisite: BIOL 14a.
Develops knowledge and skills to research, choose and interpret the bext experimental approaches for answering research questions in molecular biology. Studies molecular biology techniques such as PCR, DNA sequencing, genomics, cloning, microarrays, and CRISPR, and their research applications. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Woodruff

BIOL 128a Human Genetics
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Prerequisites: BIOL 14a and BIOL 15b.
Survey of topics, including: overview of the human genome; variation; mutation and polymorphism; reproductive genetics; single-gene inheritance and complexities thereof; multifactorial conditions;risk assessment including Bayesian analysis; gene mapping including linkage analysis and genome wide association studies (GWAS); molecular methodology in genetics and genomics; cytogenetics; hemoglobinopathies; population genetics; cancer genetics; genetics of development;biochemistry of selected genetic diseases; treatment including pharmacogenetics and gene therapy; ethical considerations in genetics and genomics. Usually offered every year.

BIOL 160b Human Reproductive and Developmental Biology
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Prerequisites: BIOL 14a or BIOL 22a and BIOL 15b or BIOL 22b.
Course deals with hormonal, cellular, and molecular aspects of gametogenesis, fertilization, pregnancy, and birth. Pathological and abnormal variations that occur and the available medical technologies for intervention, correction, and facilitation of these processes are discussed. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Jackson

BIOL 202d Introduction to Genetic Counseling
A two-semester sequence that provides the historical and theoretical foundations for the practice of genetic counseling and the role of genetic services within the health care delivery system. Introduces students to some of the practical aspects of genetic counseling, including case preparation, pedigree construction/interpretation, risk assessment, psychological assessment and support, patient education and medical documentation. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 203a Proseminar: The Molecular Basis of Genetic Diseases
Covers the molecular basis of muscular dystrophy, fragile X syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Huntington's disease, and several inherited cancer syndromes. A historical perspective is used for each topic; molecular diagnostics and genetic counseling issues are addressed as well. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Tsipis

BIOL 204b Clinical Genetics I
Introduces the major practice areas of clinical genetics: prenatal, pediatrics, biochemical and cancer genetics for first year students. The course is broken into fours blocks, each devoted to one of these areas. The blocks include didactic lectures from experts in the field as well as case discussions led by practicing genetic counselors meant to allow students to put what they have learned into practice. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider and Ms. Stoler

BIOL 205b Counseling Theory and Technique
A comprehensive overview of counseling theory and practice. Topics include listening, observation, and interview skills and strategies; family dynamics and development; coping and adaptation processes; referral and consultation procedures; and ethical principles. Students are provided an opportunity to integrate clinical experiences with the coverage of topics. Usually offered every year.
Mr. Rintell

BIOL 206d Genetic Counseling Journal Club
Informal biweekly meeting of students and faculty at which recent papers are discussed. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Tsipis

BIOL 207a Genetic Counseling: Case Conferences and Family Counseling
Examines case studies providing the basis for discussion of a variety of genetic disorders and the application of counseling modalities. Students have an opportunity to share experiences gained during clinical internships. Discussions emphasize the interplay of medical, psychological, ethical, legal, social, and cultural factors in genetic counseling. Co-taught by a clinical psychologist and a certified genetic counselor. Usually offered every year.
Mr. Rintell and Ms. Rosenfield

BIOL 211a Genetic Counseling Fieldwork Placement: Part I
Students work one day per week in a community-based health service organization, school, clinic, or public health agency to develop awareness of disability-related issues and the variety of community-based services for individuals with special needs. Students also observe in a genetics clinic twenty to thirty hours over the course of the semester to gain exposure to concepts learned in BIOL 202d (Introduction to Genetic Counseling). Periodic course discussions supplement the fieldwork experience. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Foster

BIOL 211b Genetic Counseling Fieldwork Placement: Part II
To begin preparing for clinical genetics internships, students participate in a variety of experiences that serve to foster and integrate the concepts introduced in courses and presentations. Students are exposed to procedures in clinical labs through lectures, site visits, and/or lab work. In addition, students continue observations in a genetics clinic and meet several times with a family with a child with a disability. Periodic course discussions supplement the fieldwork experience.
Ms. Foster

BIOL 212a Genetic Counseling Internship I
Students complete a 30 contact day clinical genetic internship under the supervision of a genetic counselor or other qualified clinician. Students increase their knowledge of clinical genetics and master genetic counseling skills by offering genetic counseling services in a prenatal, pediatric, cancer, general, adult ,or specialty clinic setting. Usually offered every summer.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 212b Genetic Counseling Internship II
Students complete a 25 contact day clinical genetic internship under the supervision of a genetic counselor or other qualified clinician. Students increase their knowledge of clinical genetics and master genetic counseling skills by offering genetic counseling services in a prenatal, pediatric, cancer, general, adult, or specialty clinic setting. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 213a Genetic Counseling Research I
In the summer semester students chose a research project, do a review of the literature and summarize key findings, and write a research proposal for a thesis project (to be done in the following fall/spring semesters). Usually offered in the summer.
Ms. Rosen Sheidley

BIOL 213b Genetic Counseling Research II
Prerequisite: BIOL 213a.
Students are introduced to the principles and basic techniques of social science research in a series of seminars while they implement their thesis research projects. Usually offered fall and spring.
Ms. Rosen Sheidley

BIOL 214c Genetic Counseling Process Group
In this small group setting, students can share and learn from their collective experiences in their field placements, courses, and individual lives and have the opportunity to process and integrate the experience of becoming a genetic counselor. Usually offered every semester.
Mr. Cunningham

BIOL 215b Readings in Molecular Biology
A combination of readings and clinical laboratory work to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the molecular biology of several human genetic diseases and the techniques used for their diagnosis. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Tsipis

BIOL 216b Internship Seminar Series
This is a noncredit seminar required for all genetic counseling students.
Students meet once a week for a series of lectures, presentations and mock sessions that explore issues related to advanced practice in genetic counseling. Topics include advanced genetic counseling case management, Baysian analysis, and the use of the NSGC code of ethics. Usually offered every year.

BIOL 220a Clinical Genetics II
Prerequisite: BIOL 204b or permission of the instructor.
Continuation of BIOL 204b with emphasis on the genetic and developmental disorders of most major organ systems. The course includes discussion of neurogenetics, neuromuscular, hematological, cardiovascular, connective tissue, skeletal dysplasias and craniosynostoses, vision and hearing disorders as well as coverage of renal, immunological and GI and pulmonary disorders. Each week covers a different system in both a didactic lecture and a case discussion. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider and Ms. Stoler

BIOL 235b American Health Policy & Practice and the Delivery of Genomic Health Care
Enrollment limited to Genetic Counseling or Health Policy graduate students or with permission of the instructor.
The continuous discovery of genetic markers for common diseases is leading to an increasing demand for genetic services, and for the integration of traditional medical genetics with mainstream medicine and public health care. In addition, the American healthcare system is evolving and huge changes in how is accessed, financed and delivered can be expected in the coming years. Those providing genetic services will therefore need a strong background in the structure of the American health care system and how public policy is influencing the field of medical genetics. This course is specifically designed to meet this objective using a mixture of readings from the literature, writing assignments, lecture, class discussion, guest speakers and student presentations. Usually offered every second year.
Ms. Lerner

BIOL 236b Genetics, Law, and Social Policy
Explores legal doctrines, developing skills in analyzing legal and policy issues arising in professional practice and preparing students to actively participate in the development of institutional and public policies. Topics covered include confidentiality, patient autonomy, regulation of genetic, reproductive rights, and genetic discrimination. Usually offered every second year.
Ms. Noble